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So that rascal Belghast pinged me on a viral questionnaire that is making the rounds. His purpose seemed to be to poke me to see if my blog software still works, given how long it has been since I posted. It does!

The idea is that I answer 7 questions he sent, then I’m supposed to come up with 7 new questions and send them to 7 other bloggers. I’m not sure I know seven other bloggers that haven’t already been tagged, though, so I’m going to be a spoil-sport and just answer Bel’s questions. Also see question 2. Anyway, here goes nothing:

  • What is your earliest memory?

I grew up in a fishing community. We ate a lot of shellfish and used the shells to “pave” the driveway. The adults would just toss the shells out there and drive over them and it was like poor-man’s gravel, I guess. Anyway, I was maybe 3 years old, walking across this (I guess I had tough feet back then) and I stepped on a shell that had a yellow jacket in it and got stung. All I remember is that I got stung, cried a bunch and got carried inside. My next memory is from years later so this must’ve had quite an impact.

  • What is something that you have lost in your past that you would love to have today?

This one hurts to admit, but it’s my imagination. I used to have a really vivid imagination but it has faded with time. In some ways I blame video games for that. A lot of my ‘imagination time’ was spent on making up some kind of story behind the games and activities I enjoyed. (I was effectively an only child — my brother left home when I was six — and there were no other kids in my neighborhood so I spent a lot of time playing alone.) Then video/computer games came along and they gave me both the activity and the story behind it. Or maybe it is just part of getting older? Anyway when I fire up Minecraft or The Sims (something that lets me create) I just tend to stare vacantly, devoid of ideas. And I could no longer write fiction if my life depended on it. I just don’t get the ideas like I used to.

Answering the same question from a completely different point of view, I’d say the ocean. As I said, I grew up in a fishing community but it was also in the Hamptons and we were in the ocean constantly during warm weather. I really miss that and would love to have it back.

  • What is the last piece of media (book/movie/video/whatever) that really moved you emotionally?

SPOILERS: Has to be Avengers: Endgame, for a couple of reasons (and I should point out that I just watched it last weekend for the first time). I’ve never been a HUGE comic book fan but when I was a kid I’d get Marvel comics mostly for Stan’s Soapbox. Stan Lee was the first adult that felt like he was talking to me, not talking down to me. My father died when I was young, my mom eventually re-married someone I never respected. In a weird way Stan Lee was my prevalent father-figure. When he died I was crushed, and somehow seeing some of the long-time Avengers being phased out kind of reinforced that feeling. So the movie both reminded me that Stan is gone, and removed from the playfield characters I’ve “known” since I was a boy.

  • What was your favorite childhood “character” (comic/movie/literary/etc) and has that changed over the years?

This one is tough. I guess I’d have to say James T Kirk. He was, at the least, the character that I watched over and over again. I mean look, he traveled through the stars, won every fight, got every woman he chased, but he wasn’t just a warrior; he was a diplomat, too. And having Spock as a friend, who I was also drawn to because he was so damned smart, just made him even better.

I dunno that I have a favorite these days. I am now more drawn to worlds and ensembles of characters than to individuals. I love Tolkien’s world, but I can’t point at a single character and say “THAT is my favorite.” I enjoy TV shows, even bad ones, that have a crew of characters who get along, watch each others backs, and have fun together. I think that might be a reflection of being such an introvert. I don’t have friends of my own so I enjoy watching other groups of friends.

  • What are you looking forward to the most in the second half of 2019?

Hmm, I can’t think of a damned thing. Getting closer to the election that has some small chance of turning this ship around. Gaming-wise, nothing has me really fired up. I’m looking forward to new consoles, but that’s next year. I guess I’m really curious about how well Stadia will work.

  • What is your greatest fear and has it changed as you have aged?

Jeez Bel, you don’t pull any punches, eh? My greatest fear is being helpless. Always has been. Like being broke and unable to provide for myself. Or having a lingering illness where I need people to look after me. Really I hate having to ask for help or HAVING to rely on others. (Which is slightly different from having people offering to help me with something just because they actually WANT to help.)

What keeps you engaged in a community over time and where do you feel the most at home?

I’ve yet to find a community that I can stay engaged in, so for the first part of that question, I just don’t know. I feel most at home sitting on the couch alone (well aside from my doggo) playing a single player game. Thankfully Angela gets this and is willing to give me that “alone time” on a pretty regular basis. I’ve tried, over and over, to get involved in online communities, but really most people irritate me unless I keep them at arm’s length, so thus far I’ve always failed to make the online community thing work.

So that’s my questions answered! Hopefully I’ve been a semi-good sport. I just don’t know 7 other people to tag even if I HAD 7 new questions, which I don’t. Every chain has a last link, I guess!

Recently Square Enix was running one of its “come back to Final Fantasy XIV” promotions. If you were a former player you could get a week of sub time just by logging in. As the period for this was winding down I figured “Hey free time, I better use it!” so I did.

I’ve always loved the world of Final Fantasy XIV. The weird creatures, the ridiculously overwrought dialog, the cute female characters [ahem, not sure I should admit that one]. For me it really leans into the “fantasy” part of the title.

I’ve always disliked Final Fantasy XIV because of the forced grouping. In order to unlock things in the game you have to follow the Main Story Quests and these send you to group dungeons fairly often. I simply DO NOT like playing with others, particularly strangers. It makes me super anxious because I’m afraid I’ll do something that negatively impacts other players and I hate looking stupid in front of people. [Yeah don’t think this stems from altruism; we all know me better than that. I just don’t want to embarrass myself.]

Busy starter cities
I was happy to discover that the ‘starter cities’ are still nicely populated

But I started playing and thanks to a “Preferred Server” buff I flew through the levels and the quests and within a day or two I was faced with queuing for dungeons. I summoned my courage, queued up, started sweating it out. When the Duty (as they are called in FFXIV) popped I almost declined it, but I didn’t. And I found that at this point you are essentially carried in low level dungeons. Bosses die so fast (since most of your party will by max level) that you don’t even have to worry about special mechanics.

This, I guess, is the beauty of FFXIV rewarding high level players to replay low level content. And for me it made a huge difference. That first dungeon wasn’t so bad. Just to be safe before I did another I watched some YouTube videos showing the special features/tricks of the next few dungeons, then I pressed on.

Questing
All these people are doing a level 15 or so quest. The little filmstrip icon next to their name shows they are in a cut scene

Before this gets stupid long, let me summarize. I learned that low level dungeons are generally stress free. I learned that letting folks know “This is my first time” often actually gets you helpful advice. And I learned that if the party wipes, it’s generally not the DPS dude’s fault (that’s me), it’s just over-exuberance on the part of the tank, and people shrug it off, slow down a little and finish the fight.

Somehow I’ve now gone from dreading these dungeon runs to looking forward to them. Now my gripe is that queue times are too long for a DPS and I’m thinking of starting a tank or healing job. Now I’m often the first guy who says “Hi!” in group chat; I’ve become, dare I say it? Social. I joined a Free Company (guild). I joined a Linkshell (group chat). OK so it is the Novice Network linkshell that is pretty impersonal, but still!

I don’t know what this is, but I didn’t mess with it. It was level 50

I feel like after playing FFXIV for a while, I’ll be able to go into any other MMO and queue up for group content and not sweat it so much. I’m sure at some point I’ll have that experience of someone getting mad and rage-quitting or calling me names because I suck, but already I have a nice body of experience that shows me that is the rare exception and not the norm. Honestly for the most part, people don’t talk at all except maybe a hello at the start and a ‘thanks for the party’ at the end.

That said, I’m still having a blast with FFXIV. I’ve re-subbed and will keep playing for the foreseeable future. Which reminds me, I should probably cancel my SWTOR subscription. 🙁

I’ve been meaning to write this post all week but never did because I kept forgetting to take some good screenshots to support it. I still haven’t but y’all know what Star Wars: The Old Republic looks like anyway, right?

Without really planning to, I’ve been taking a tour of old MMOs for the past month or so. Last week I noticed a few friends have been playing SWTOR, then the trailer for the next movie came out, and I figured “Sure, why not?” I’d only gotten it installed when the Star Wars Celebration Event (that I was unaware of) kicked off and suddenly my Star Wars interest spiked.

My old, old account was protected by a security key which I couldn’t find. It was from back when they put a piece of hardware in the game box (yes, younglings, games used to come in boxes that you bought at a shop) to help you secure your account. Best guess was I’d have to call support to get that account back so I said “Heck with it” and bought a starter kit that came with 60 days of game-time for less than what I would’ve normally paid for 60 days of game-time.

You can play SWTOR for free but my recollection was that there were a lot of limitations and I knew I’d end up subscribing anyway so…

Corso is staring at me again, isn’t he? SO CREEPY!

Anyway, so new character on a new account. I’d forgotten about the Legacy System where all your characters contribute to leveling up and unlocking things or I might’ve made the effort to recover the old account. Eh, water under the bridge now.

Bioware has put out a few expansions since I played and they REALLY want you to play this new content. You can create a character ready for the new content (level 50 or something) but I created a basic level 1 character. I can’t handle jumping into a game and being handed 2 dozen skills all at once.

Still Bioware pushed. There is a permanent 200% experience bonus while you play the vanilla content, and by default side quests aren’t shown on the map. They want you to just play your story missions and the main storyline for the planet you are on. I’m way too OCD for that so I turned on the side quests and jumped in.

She looks fine but her armor needs better textures, no?

Generally speaking the game holds up pretty well. All it would take is a high-definition texture pack to make it look quite good. The kind of stylized design of the characters ages well, but the armor and weapons could really used some more detail. It’s an old enough game that when it detected my graphics card it said “Gosh I have no idea” and set everything to “low” but I toggled everything to max settings and holding 60 FPS is not a problem.

Gameplay-wise, this vanilla content is very easy since you’re leveling so fast. By the time I left Coruscant, the first ‘main’ planet in the storyline, I was level 35. The game auto-scales you down (to 18 on Coruscant) but you’re still a beast. My companion even more so. If I set the companion to heal I almost think it would be impossible to die, but I haven’t tested this. The only enemy I didn’t try to kill on Coruscant was the world boss. Everything else, including heroic missions, was a cake walk. Too easy, really.

Finally got my ship back, now I’m off to the Republic Fleet

They’ve also added a solo mode to flashpoints, the “dungeons” in SWTOR. Originally designed for groups of 4, you can now do them in solo mode with you, your companion, and a provided combat droid. This was very easy too, though it took a long time just because the enemies still have a lot of HP to burn through.

What is really saving me and keeping me in SWTOR is the story and characters. I’ve played through all of this before but it was such a long time ago that it feels fresh. (I’m also playing a female character which changes things a little, based on some of the interactions.) I may also be paying more attention to the story since I’m not looking over my shoulder to see if some NPC is going to kill me, or feeling like I’m falling behind my friends as they level quickly. There’s something to be said for the pure solo-ist lifestyle in a game with this much story/dialog.

My only real concern is that if I stick around long enough and get to where I’ll have to actually fight smart I won’t know how to. I specced my character as a healer (way out of my wheelhouse) because I thought I could practice on my companion as I go along, but I’ve had the opportunity to heal him maybe 3 or 4 times, he’s such a beast.

I’d forgotten there was space combat

But knowing how flighty I’ve been recently, that’s just borrowing trouble. I may never get that far. For right now I’m enjoying plowing through this content, meeting nice (NPC) folks and bashing the villains. I have my ship, a nice apartment, a couple of companions, and a shiny blaster. What more could a Scoundrel like me want?

TL;DR version: I changed my identity to Nimgimli on a bunch of services so if we’re friends and you see that pop-up, it’s just me. Now here’s the LOOONG version:

Finding a ‘handle’ to use online can be tough. You wouldn’t think I’d be struggling with this given I’ve been online for something like 40 years at this point, but here I am.

Way way back on GEnie and Compuserve I had 2 handles: CaptCook and JadedGamer. The first was because at the time I was a cook and I admired the historical figure Capt. James Cook. The second was because I fancied myself a game critic and thought it made me sound edgy and authentic (hey, I was young).

Of the two, JadedGamer stuck. When the Internet started taking off as a mainstream thing I had a site called The Jaded Gamers Pub which I ran for years under the name Jaded and for a long while that was how I was known. When Xbox Live came online 16 or 17 years ago I grabbed that gamertag for continuity.

By the time the Playstation Network came online, this blog existed. I tried to get Jaded as my PSN name but it was taken, so I used Dragonchasers instead. The Dragonchasers name is intended to reflect both the literal in terms of the kinds of games I most played (fantasy RPGs where often a dragon was an ultimate baddie) and an homage to one of my favorite movies, Knightriders

Knightriders was about a group of people trying to re-live/re-invent Camelot in modern times. They were a traveling band that put on a jousting show, only instead of horses they rode motorcycles. It starred a young Ed Harris as Billy, their would-be Arthur and the person who most believed in the dream. In the movie at one point an exasperated Billy describes his quest as “chasing the dragon” which I adopted as an expression that meant searching for a nearly insurmountable challenge or dream and trying to attain it. [Of course these days Chasing the Dragon is a heroin term.]

Years went by and my “Jaded” tag on Xbox Live started to chafe. The gaming community changed and EVERYONE was jaded/cynical and I stopped seeing being jaded as a positive thing. At the same time I was constantly being hassled by people who wanted to buy the gamertag from me. One day I got a very polite request from someone and decided “Ah screw it, I’ll just give it up.” I switched it to “Traellan” which is the name of a character I had in Dark Age Of Camelot.

There’s no special meaning behind Traellan other than I liked the sound of it and it is easy to shorten to “Trae.” I got it wherever I could and tried to homogenize around it, with mixed results. Yesterday Sony finally started letting us change our PSN names so I charged off to get “Traellan” there too, but it was taken. Damn it!

So in a fit of pique I decided to change everything again. Now I’ve gone with Nimgimli which is, in my mind, based on a goblin character from an old fighting game. I had to turn to my old pal Irata to remember the name of it. The game was called Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft and the character I remember as Nimgimli was actually “Nym Pymplee the mad goblin” which is a less appealing name. But if you watch this clip, to me it still sounds like Nimgimli:

The good news was “Nimgimli” was available pretty much everywhere. I now have it on Steam, Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Twitter, Twitch, and Origin. So far. I like it because it’s a little silly, easy to shorten to Nim, and isn’t loaded with any kind of meaning. It’s just a name. So if you see a mad goblin show up in your game or timeline, it’s probably me.

So all this talking about me has me curious about you. Where’d your handle come from? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

A couple of weeks back Bethesda gave away Morrowind to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of The Elder Scrolls. Of course I snagged a copy, but then I did something crazy. I tried to play it. One point of gamer-shame I carry around with me is that I’ve never played a significant way into any of the Elder Scrolls games (other than Elder Scrolls Online). I’ve bought them all, but generally drift away after 5-10 hours which is like reading the preface of a book then tossing it aside.

Morrowind, in 2019, was a struggle. It looks dated, the UI is clunky and the game is HARD. But hey, I’m on PC now, there are MODS. So I started looking into mods for the game and, well I won’t go into details but there’s a lot to take in and at some point I got tired of researching and decided “Y’know what, maybe we should turn to one of the newer Elder Scrolls games.”

So I bought Skyrim Special Edition, which is I think the 5th time I’ve purchased Skyrim (bought at launch, bought it on Steam at some point, bought the Special Edition on both PS4 and Xbox One, and now SE on Steam). But now I had mods in my craw so I wanted to mod Skyrim too.

That actually went a lot better since Skyrim was designed to be modded. There’s still a certain amount of fiddling you have to do, mostly in terms of load order and what mods co-exist happily and what should over-write what. In the end I followed a guide on YouTube. You don’t have to watch the video, just look at the mod list in the summary. That’s where we’ve landed, people essentially blogging in the description field at YouTube.

It’s looking pretty good, though every so often I get a surprise, like Aela the Huntress showing up in bondage gear thanks to one of the armor mods (though I’m not sure which one).

But at this point I’ve been playing WITH Skyrim more than playing it, and Morrowind was still floating around in the back of my head. AND Lola was demanding that I spend more time on the couch so she could rest her furry little head against me and snore.

So I snagged the Xbox (like, original Xbox) version of Morrowind for $15. Thanks to backward compatibility it runs on the Xbox One X and some mad scientist at Microsoft or Bethesda has tweaked it to run at 4K, even. I mean it is still super-dated but it’s better than “vanilla.” The UI is still clunky and the game is still hard. I ‘cheated’ on that last bit by reading and following a guide for the first couple hours of the game. That cut down the initial frustration a lot. Mostly the character creation bits. On my first try (on PC), rats were destroying me. Following this guide I can take down everything in the starting area without too much effort.

Funny thing is, I glommed onto Morrowind on the Xbox harder than I did the modded Skyrim on PC. I think it’s just so retro that it feels like something different, if that makes sense. These games take (I think) 100 bajillion hours to finish, so I’m not fooling myself that I’ll play through either of them, but I’m getting something out of them that I didn’t when I was younger. I think I just have more patience now. I read all the books I find, talk to everyone and just in general go slower and kind of take it all in more than I did back in the day when I couldn’t wait to get out there and kill something. In a way they’re scratching that MMO itch, in that what I generally love about MMOs is having a HUGE world to explore. (The other players in MMOs aren’t a huge draw for me because I’m weird.)

I dunno how long this nostalgia kick will go on. First old MMOs, now old single player games. I think I’m just enjoying them because these games are too old to have much drama surrounding them. Plus, to paraphrase @dog_rates, “They’re good games, Brent.”

Between all the vitriol seething around stupid (IMO, obviously) issues with modern games, and just the fact that I’ve been away from PC gaming for a long time, I’ve been revisiting some old favorites lately. It’s good timing since it seems like plenty of folks are on a nostalgia kick when it comes to games, and MMOs in particular.

In the last months I’ve at least dipped my toe into WoW, LOTRO, Guild Wars 2, Age of Conan, Star Trek Online, Secret World Legends, Neverwinter, DC Universe Online, EVE Online, Anarchy Online and Everquest 2. Mind you in some cases it was a single login (looking at you, Age of Conan and Anarchy Online).

In a couple of cases (LOTRO and EQ2) I’ve decided to roll on the progression servers (or as LOTRO calls them, Legendary Servers). My thinking was “Hey, it’s a nostalgia trip, might as well go all-in.” Further thinking was that the games ought to be simpler to get back into on these older builds that don’t have years of expansions layered onto the foundations.

Well it turns out that while it was simpler to get back into the games in this way, these servers are not for me. In my heart they are, but in my real world having slower than normal progression doesn’t pair well with my “OK I think I can sneak in an hour of gaming tonight” lifestyle. I just don’t get anywhere.

This might not be a big deal if not for the fact that I never hit cap on these games back when I played them live. I’m a notorious game grazer, so getting through half the content, then coming back years later and starting all over rather than picking up where I left off and seeing new content…it just doesn’t make that much sense for me.

All that said, though, these servers ARE a great way to re-acclimate myself. In both LOTRO and EQ2 I started a new character on the special server and played for a couple of hours. I felt dusty old neural pathways flicker back into life as I remembered the various systems (I’d totally forgotten about the existence of Fellowship Maneuvers and Heroic Opportunities). But once I was feeling comfortable again, I abandoned these half-formed virtual lives to go pick up some old character from years ago, armed with a least some familiarity with the game again.

Ironic, really. I spent a bunch of money for a PC that can handle all the modern games on high graphics settings, and now I’m playing games that I could’ve played on one of the old PCs that it collecting dust in the closet!

Still, I’m having fun and that’s what matters.

Yeah, there’s a photo mode

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I’m really digging it. That’s not a huge surprise. I’m not a Lara Croft super-fan but I have enjoyed most of the games and in particular this most recent reboot of the franchise.

So far (I’m guessing I’m about half-way through based on the number of ‘challenge tombs’ I’ve found) it has been a wonderfully varied experience. Sometimes I’m in combat, (which is brutal…if you’re squeamish you might want to skip this one), sometimes I’m solving puzzles, sometimes I’m just wandering through a village digging up lore and chatting with the locals. The pacing is great for me; I’ve yet to hit a point where I’m thinking “OK let’s move on from this.” At least not so far.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into the gameplay since, well, it’s not a new game and I haven’t finished it anyway, but I did want to heap praise on the developers for the settings. First, on the Xbox One X (and I imagine PS4 Pro) you can choose Performance or Resolution options. It’s always nice when we users get to choose how a game uses the extra horsepower of these mid-generation upgrade consoles.

When in Paititi…

Beyond that, there are three different difficulty settings: one for puzzles, one for combat, one for exploration. So if you hate puzzles but love combat, maybe you make the puzzles easier and the combat harder. Whatever you like; tailor the game to your play style. [Disclaimer: I left everything on the Normal difficult levels.] Second, there’s a camera bob setting. Sometimes 3rd person action games that take place in narrow passages can make me a little woozy since you’re always swinging the camera around to look for hidden secrets. SotTR was doing that until I noticed an option to turn off the camera bob. It was like having a VR comfort setting in a non-VR game. Super appreciated, thank you devs!

So I’m REALLY enjoying myself. What has me feeling a little guilty is, I’m playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider via Game Pass. If you’re unaware, Game Pass is Microsoft’s subscription service for games. You pay a monthly fee and can play any of a broad selection of games (I think there are about 175 in the library now). I bought my Game Pass subscription during a Black Friday sale and loaded up a year’s worth for time for the price of a new game.

Lara was a handful even when she was a child

When Shadow of the Tomb Raider came out I knew I wanted to play it but the release schedule was so crammed at the time I gave it a pass. Now I kind of wish I’d purchased it back then, because I have this old-fashioned notion of supporting things you enjoy (a notion that often competes with the modern notion of “Oh hey, the rent is due.”). Square Enix is apparently not having a great year; maybe if I’d purchased SotTR at full price it would’ve turned them around! [No, my ego is not REALLY that big.]

I mean, it’s not my fault that the gaming industry has created a “race to the bottom” environment for game prices. But still…feeling a tad guilty. Maybe I’ll buy the Season Pass.

For three+ decades I was primarily a computer gamer (I say “computer” rather than “PC” since the first machine I gamed on was an Atari 400). Then I abruptly made the switch to pretty much exclusively console gaming for half a decade or so. Recently I switched back again and for a few months the consoles sat idle as I re-immersed myself in PC game.

My gaming pendulum has now settled into a happy medium and I find for me, some experiences are best on PC, others best on console. I thought I’d share some of my findings. As you read this, please understand all of this is what works FOR ME. Some PC gamers can get prickly whenever someone prefers consoles, for some reason.

I’ve found that I enjoy single player AAA titles more on console. Yeah, the PC can play them at higher graphics settings but for me that’s the only advantage PCs have for these games. I find that playing on console I get more out of these games. There are fewer distractions and I tend to play for longer sessions which also helps with immersion (and greatly increases the chance I’ll actually FINISH a game).

On the PC I’m constantly distracting myself with FOMO around Twitter or Discord. I run with 2 monitors and always have social media up on monitor two and constantly scan it. Because of this I just don’t “sink in” to a game quite as much; my attention is always divided.

Perfect example, this weekend I was playing Far Cry New Dawn on PC, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider on Xbox. I actually spent more time working “around” New Dawn than playing it; mostly tweaking graphics settings to try to maximize frame rate in between jumping over to social media to see what else was going on. Over the course of the weekend I finally made it out of the tutorial. Contrast that with Tomb Raider on Xbox, however, where I got about 25% of the way through the game because I’d boot it up, start playing and keep playing, focusing just on the game.

This “single player is better on console” rule breaks down for older games. Older single player games are better on PC because of mods. If a game is good enough to still be worth playing 5-10 years after release, the community has probably modded it to make it better than it was at launch. Example: Vampire the Masquerade is STILL being patched by the community on PC, LONG after the developers walked away from it.

Then there are indie/niche games. The PC excels here. Sure there are some indie games on console but not nearly as many as on PC and whole genres (the various “Simulator” games) are virtually non-existent on consoles.

While we have some MMOs on console, I feel like they are best experienced on PC thanks to everyone having a keyboard at hand. There are console MMOs with text-chat support but balancing a keyboard on your lap while playing from the couch isn’t ideal.

MP games like The Division 2 or Anthem are a tougher call. I still can’t decide where I like them best. On PC I get a higher frame rate and (for TD2 anyway) text chat, but on consoles I tend to play them for longer sessions without getting distracted so often advance quicker. In this category I NEED to make a decision though, because I can’t afford to keep buying two copies of this kind of game!

I don’t really play a lot of strategy games these days, but if I did I’d play them on PC. I am very comfortable using a controller, but when you’ve got a ton of boxes, buttons and units to click on or select, mouse and keyboard is the way to go.

Driving games, though.. console for me. There’s something about lounging back on the couch driving around that just feels right. I wish to heck Euro Truck Simulator would come to console!

Anyway, no real point to this post other than to talk about how happy I am where my “gaming life” is right now. It’s nice to have the choice of where to play and what to play. Heck I didn’t even touch on the Switch and what works best for me on handheld. That’s another post, I guess.

I’m old. We didn’t have video games when I was a kid. Instead we’d play board games. Monopoly, Risk, Mille Bornes. Stuff like that. When I was alone I’d play wargames, the old paper map and cardboard chit kind. (Yes, I’d have to play both sides, but I made do.)

All of this was fun. I loved games then, I still love games today.

Somewhere along the way, though, I started to require something more from games in order to feel satisfied by them. Some reward. Just playing isn’t enough. It might be gaining levels or earning loot. It might be unlocking Achievements.

I don’t like this about myself very much.

A few things have me pondering this aspect of gaming. First is Anthem. Now for me Anthem is kind of the exception. I have SO much fun just flying around the world blowing shit up that I don’t pay attention to levels or loot. I’m just having fun. Many people, however, seem really upset right now because they don’t get enough loot when they play. The general upshot is “If I’m not getting good loot, I’m just wasting my time.” In effect they are saying there is no value in the actual playing of the game, just in the rewards for having played.

Next, I gave the turn-based Battletech a shot over the weekend (there was a free-play weekend on Steam). Started a campaign, played the first mission for 30 minutes or so, and lost. “Damn, what a waste of time!” I thought. That I was having fun for that 30 minutes didn’t figure into my immediate reaction. I didn’t even think about how sad that was until hours later.

I used to play a LOT of strategy games, and if I could beat them the first time I played I would be kind of upset. I played them for the challenge of trying to beat the AI and that was enough. I didn’t need to get a “Legendary Item” when I’d won a battle. My reward was the satisfaction of winning and having had fun playing. (And of course the chance to start another game.) Now apparently losing a mission means the game sucks?

It has gotten so bad with me that even after I got my new PC gaming rig going, I still tend to play on the consoles. There are a few legit reasons for this, but one big stupid reason is “Achievements.” I don’t have a “gamerscore” to track my progress on PC so I am not getting “rewarded” for playing. It’s the same reason I don’t play the Switch much; I’m not getting a pat on the back because I beat a level or whatever.

I would like to “fix” this about myself. (I would like to fix it with regards to the entire gaming community but I realize that’s beyond my abilities.) I would like to go back to playing games just because I’m enjoying playing them, and not because I’m chasing a tiny dopamine hit when I get a good loot drop. I’m not sure how to un-train myself, though.

What makes it even harder is that so many aspects of life are “gamified” these days. Heck the fact that “gamify” just means “bolt on a progression system” feels like a huge part of the problem.

I think the board-gaming community is my only hope. They still play for the enjoyment of playing, and not for phat loot or cheevos. At least, I think that is the case. Maybe I need to break out the paper maps and cardboard counters once again.

First a recap, very briefly. I needed a new laptop at the same time I was suffering from FOMO around my friends playing PC games together. So after a few sidetracks that didn’t pan out, I decided to blow the budget and bought a gaming laptop.

Zowie XL2411P

My last update was when I ran a wired Ethernet connection (since it is in a corner of the apartment with poor WiFi reception) to the laptop and confirmed that Parsec worked great. Since then I decided that a 1080P 15″ screen is just a little too small for me for gaming (keep in mind I’m nearly 60 and my eyes are getting worse all the time) so I added a 24″ 144hz 1080P monitor. I capped at 1080P because the GPU in the laptop (a GTX 1070 Max-Q) can only do so much. I’d rather higher settings at 1080P than mid-settings at 1440. I think 4K is out of the question for this GPU.

As I started using it more, it became a bit of an issue having to use headphones all the time. It’s hard to chat with Angela wearing headphones. So I bought a little USB-powered soundbar to go with the monitor since the monitor has no speakers

GoGroove Mini SoundBar

Of course with no headphones I started to really notice the sound of the fans, so I bought a USB-powered cooling pad to see if I could quiet it a little (it worked, somewhat).

Then I bought a powerstrip with USB charging ports so I could power soundbar and cooling pad without drawing more power from the laptop. And a non-powered USB hub just to try to neaten things up.

It was about this point that I realized I should’ve bought a desktop gaming PC AND a modest laptop because right now this laptop sits in a nest of cables and cords that just seems kind of silly. I mean, it works great but to take it somewhere I have to disconnect the external drive, the USB hub, the displayport cable, the Ethernet cable and the power cable.

Just a few cables to detach before I go mobile.
Also how does the camera always pick up so much dust that my old eyes can’t see?
I can sure see it in the photo!

When I have some ‘play money’ built up again I’m going to look at one of those Thunderbolt docking stations, but they’re like $300 so that might be awhile. In theory with one of those I’d just have the power cable and the docking station attached to the laptop. Much easier to grab and go that way.

And then danged Nvidia put the Nvidia Shield TV on sale and I made an impulse buy. And y’know what? That has pulled everything together perfectly. The Shield TV is mostly a media streaming box like the Fire TV or Apple TV, but it has a few gaming features. One of them is GameStream which offers in-home streaming. Alternatively you can run the Parsec Android client on it.

Nvidia Shield Gaming Edition

So far GameStream has been working well. I can now stream from the laptop to the 60″ TV in the living room. So far I’m only using it for games I play with a controller since if I have to drag out keyboard and mouse I may as well go sit at the desk.

This weekend I was playing Anthem like this. It was running on the laptop in a corner of the kitchen but I was in the living room on the couch with a warm puppy laying beside me and it ran perfectly. GameStream has a virtual mouse feature if you need to just click one or two buttons. In fact it has a virtual keyboard too but I wouldn’t want to do much typing with it. The only thing I haven’t sorted is a way to voice chat while doing GameStream but if I’m going to be doing MP I’d probably sit at the laptop in order to be at my best anyway. Streaming is for more casual gaming. I’ve been playing a lot of My Time At Portia by streaming this way.

Nvidia Shield also supports GeForce Now, which is a cloud-streaming game service. I tested it a bit and it seems to work fine, but for right now I have enough ‘local’ stuff to play.

I’m really content with how I have things set up now. It’s a good thing I do since I’ve really blown through my ‘mad money’ for the time being. Thankfully tax refund season is upon us so can build the piggy bank back up!